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The Hummus Wave is Becoming a Tsunami and Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh Shares their Take

December 1, 2021

Hummus – A dip that originated in the Middle East has gone mainstream on fast-casual and school-lunch menus. Now new variations are coming out of those roots.

It wasn’t long ago that the only place you could score hummus was at a specialized Middle Eastern restaurant or grocery store. Hard to believe when consumers today can choose from rows of hummus containers in the supermarket case and hundreds of items on chain menus. Hummus is even USDA-approved as a school lunch food. 

Data from Restaurant Business’ sister company, Technomic, reveals that 10.5% of the Top 500 chains now menu hummus, and that number will slowly climb to 10.6% by 2023. Not a huge increase, but the variety of ways it shows up in menu applications is telling. 

The demand for more plant-based options is pushing operators to menu hummus as-is or as part of a sampler—over 600 menus in Technomic’s database list it simply as “hummus.” Sandwiches are next, with the dip or spread most often paired with veggies, falafel or chicken on some type of bread (usually pita) or in a wrap. Hummus is also increasingly finding its way into bowls, as they grow in popularity as a healthy, plant-forward platform. 

But many Americans’ introduction to hummus comes from the retail side. A number of big brands market the dip, as well as smaller, more artisanal producers. 

In its recent Market Insights report, The Insights Partners predicted that the overall hummus market is projected to grow 7.6%, reaching $8.26 billion by 2028. The researcher attributes that growth to the health benefits associated with plant proteins and the interest in plant-based eating. 

In its most basic form, hummus is a blend of mashed chickpeas, sesame seeds or paste (tahini), garlic and olive oil. But to gain mass appeal, manufacturers started jazzing it up with scallions, pesto, roasted red peppers, jalapenos, barbecue sauce and other savory ingredients, eventually sweetening the chickpea blend with chocolate, pumpkin, cinnamon or hazelnut spread. Dessert hummus is now a sought-after snack or healthier treat. 

Now that consumers have a wealth of choices, Mediterranean and health-focused fast casuals, where hummus is most prevalent on the menu, are finding ways to keep interest high. Authenticity and innovation are both selling points. 

Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, a 25-unit fast casual with garbanzo—the Spanish word for chickpea—in its name, makes hummus fresh in its restaurants every day, said John Geyerman, brand general manager for the Denver-based chain. 

“We use a proprietary recipe for our hummus, but it basically has just three ingredients—chickpeas, olive oil and tahini—mixed with water. We start with soaked, dried chickpeas that we cook and mash. If those are not available because of supply chain issues, we use canned garbanzos,” he said. 

That classic hummus is always available, but its “simplicity makes it adaptable to different flavor profiles, which we change seasonally three times a year,” he said. During the summer, a pink-hued Citrus Beet Hummus made with roasted beets and fresh orange was on the menu. For fall, Garbanzo is offering a Kalamata Olive Hummus. 

“It used to be that people thought only yoga teachers ate hummus, but now it’s much more acceptable, even among kids,” said Geyerman. In fact, Garbanzo’s kids’ menu includes hummus and pita as one of the choices, and it’s a favorite. “Kids often determine a family’s restaurant choice, so we’re happy to have this healthier, well-liked option,” he said. 

Dave Pesso, co-founder of The Hummus & Pita Co. based in New York City, was born into a Greek-Israeli family and tries to give customers “the best of the Mediterranean and Middle East,” he said. “But 50% of our customers don’t come in for global food, just healthy food.” 

Hummus is key to the concept, as the name of the 8-unit fast casual implies, and is available in eight flavors. But Pesso, who is also the menu developer, has created other signature options to accommodate vegans, many of which include hummus. A standout is his vegan shawarma, which has become the No. 1 seller, surpassing even the meat-based version, he said. The same with his plant-based Moroccan meatballs, made with lentils, mushrooms and potato starch. 

“The majority are family recipes and very authentic,” he said. “Hummus and pita is as American as bagels and lox.” 

During the pandemic, Pesso started selling on Goldbelly, the online site that curates items from restaurants. “The vegan community showed great support, and we now sell in all 50 states,” he said. 

Pesso prides himself on “always thinking outside the box” and is particularly pumped about his Chickpea Chiller—a takeoff of hummus in drinkable form. It’s a blend of chickpeas, tahini, almond milk and dates with no added sugar. “I don’t call it a hummus shake, because that has a savory connection. This is more of a dessert shake,” he said. 

Hummus smoothies are also “on the radar” at Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh, and the chef is working on a version that may come to the menu, said Geyerman. But right now, the brand’s retail program is a major initiative—something that developed out of the pandemic. 

“We started selling pints and quarts of hummus through third-party delivery during the pandemic.” he said. The success of that program hatched the idea to sell Garbanzo’s products in supermarkets. 

The acquisition of Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh by Centre Lane Partners last December is smoothing the move into retail. Centre Lane formed a holding company called WOWorks, which also includes restaurant brands Saladworks, Frutta Bowls and The Simple Greek. 

“Saladworks has 12 locations in grocery stores, and Garbanzo is working with the same supermarkets to sell at retail,” said Geyerman. “This opens doors to do more flavors, such as lemon, basil and some of our seasonal variations.” 

Garbanzo wants to position its hummus as higher quality and more unique than the mass- produced brands in the grocery case. “As the market grows, hummus brands are getting better and more special,” said Geyerman. “Craft beer led the way, and people are looking for more boutique varieties.”

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